EDITORIALS

'Veronica Mars' Movie's Kickstarter Success Could Change Everything

by
March 14, 2013

Veronica Mars KickStarter

Early on Wednesday morning, "Veronica Mars" creator Rob Thomas realized that when he started a Kickstarter campaign for a movie version of his cult TV hit that he may have just transformed the definition of what is possible in the entertainment landscape. Thomas asked fans to donate a staggering $2 million dollars - the highest movie total ever set on the platform - so he could shoot a Veronica Mars movie this summer, set to be released in early 2014. In less than five hours it hurdled the $1 million mark, and was completely funded about ten hours after the campaign began. So what could this mean for the film industry?

"Veronica Mars" was a small scale, cleverly-written and extremely well-acted detective noir television show that ran for three years on The WB (and subsequently The CW) before it was cancelled, and Thomas and his star Kristen Bell have been attempting to get a feature film version made every since it went off the air in 2007. Warner Bros., the studio that owns the rights to the series, has been reluctant to take the plunge because the studio wasn't sure the fan base was large enough to make it worth their effort. Thomas and Bell secured the studio's permission (a key factor in this conversation) to launch this campaign, and the rest happened faster than anyone could have predicted.

Naturally, the next question is, "which of my other favorite shows could have movies or extra seasons funded?" People like Shawn Ryan, of creator "The Shield", "The Chicago Code" and showrunner of the much-loved but cancelled-too-soon private eye series "Terriers," as well as Zachary Levi, star of the NBC series "Chuck," have been keeping an eye on this to possibly use as a model to continue those respective stories. The important thing moving forward is that the talent who would like to resurrect dead projects need to get permission from the studios that actually own these properties before they can get a greenlight.

All eyes in the entertainment industry will now shift to how well the "Veronica Mars" movie performs, and you can bet that studio execs will be watching closer than anyone else. WB has already received a ton of free publicity for this project, and they haven't spent a dime. Depending on the size their fanbases moving forward, future projects could get even more media attention. (Remember, "Veronica Mars" was never a huge show. Imagine what Whedon or Abrams could do with Kickstarter.) The current situation is interesting because it essentially seems like a win-win scenario for the studio. Warner Bros. can give full autonomy to Thomas and his team, sit back and let the fans fund the movie, and then rake in whatever profits they earn from distributing it. This is where a lot of people raise concerns over a Kickstarter-funded version of a movie that's still within the studio system: most Kickstarter and IndieGoGo projects are made to avoid run-ins with the kind of bureaucracy that comes with studio interference. But might this be a "best of both worlds" case? Could WB just have been using this campaign as a test to measure fan support, and might they throw in some cash later in the process? As the film makes its way toward release, we'll hopefully find out.

As of now, Warner Bros. will reportedly help out with distribution, marketing, publicity, and legal, and their digital distribution arm will aid in a limited theatrical release and a VOD release after that. $2 million is a record-setting number in Kickstarter history, but in the grand scheme of a feature film, it's actually not that much money - especially considering that Kickstarter/Amazon will take a hefty percentage off the top of that donation total. It'll be fine for a small passion project like this one (and Thomas says the more they raise, the higher the stakes will be in the final film), and I'm sure Kristen Bell and the rest of the cast are willing to work for next to nothing in order to make this happen. Launching campaigns like this won't become the norm overnight, but what happens when a bigger name launches a bigger campaign to get a film funded? I'm not sure everyone will be willing to work for next to nothing in the future, especially if the studios get more and more involved in the process.

Many are seeing the Veronica Mars movie campaign's success as a bad sign, suggesting all film studios could use this campaign's success as proof that they don't actually need to finance projects anymore. Personally, I think it's kind of crazy to be jumping to those conclusions so early in this process. Kickstarter itself is still relatively new, and as this record-breaking success indicates, it's still evolving. We're not sure where events like this could lead us quite yet, but I think it's safe to say that we should all take a breath, calm down, and watch and see how this situation plays out. This could change everything, or it might only be used for tiny resurrection projects like this. I can see a "Party Down" movie being made, possibly another Serenity movie (years and years from now), and maybe even something like "Deadwood" brought back for some closure, but I think a huge part of why fans are giving to this project is because it wasn't going to happen any other way. Will people pay to support new or "regular" projects in the same way? Doubtful.

Keep in mind also that bigger names than Thomas have taken to Kickstarter to launch projects before, but nothing has seen the insane success rate that this project has so far. David Fincher, Charlie Kaufman and Dan Harmon, and Paul Schrader have turned to the crowd-funding platform to find support for projects that studios wouldn't finance. This has started a huge debate about whether "famous" people should be allowed to use the service, or whether it should go to more truly independent users working on smaller projects.

There's certainly a level of greed that can be seen in WB letting the fans fund a movie that they will turn around and profit from, but look at it this way: for fans of "Veronica Mars" (and potentially a lot of other series, too), the alternative is not seeing how these stories continue. If the studios won't make these projects, no big deal. But if fans can chip in a few bucks to support some of their favorite creators and see some of their favorite characters again, why should people be up in arms about it? Yes, this could be seen technically as "asking you to pay for it twice," but if some are willing to do that, so what? It all goes back to this basic rule: if you don't like it, no one is forcing you to watch it (or donate to it, in this case). Fans have and always will vote with their wallets, and I don't see anything wrong with supporting a project that you feel strongly about, regardless of whether or not a conglomeration will profit from it. At least fans will finally have what they've been wanting for years, and it will be their money that made that possible.

So what's next? Dr. Horrible 2? Guillermo del Toro's At the Mountains of Madness? A Dark Tower trilogy? Terry Gilliam's Don Quixote movie, as suggested recently? Rob Thomas has certainly opened the floodgates, and as long as the studios are willing to sign on the dotted line, we could be in store for a massive wave of resurrected projects hitting crowdsourcing platforms in the near future. We'll still be featuring projects in our weekly Kickstart This column because we always want to support filmmakers, but let's throw the conversation to you guys. What do you think about the idea of a crowdsourced "Veronica Mars" movie? Will you pay to see it? Should Thomas & Bell have used Kickstarter to get this movie made? Sound off below!

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  • mrjzn
    Make a Jericho movie. NOW.
  • http://www.lawlessgentile.com/ Ali Miller
    Yeah, I think the success of the VM Kickstarter will inevitably be a trendsetter in some way, but people may be jumping too fast on the idea of resurrecting anything and everything. Veronica Mars is a show that runs on dialogue. It can be made on the cheap. There are no big sets or effects to worry about. If you want "At the Mountains of Madness" or "Dark Tower", that is going to take truckloads more money to fund - and that's when Kickstarting the project might become exploitative to fans. I think this was primarily about proving there's an audience to WB. And that couldn't have been proved any other way. Personally, I donated happily, because I love this group of actors and I'm aware of how hard RT has worked to get a movie made - I mean, he's had a script ready for years. Copypasting the VM situation onto every dead cult show is something I WISH we could do (e.g. I still want a TSCC movie to tie up loose ends) but there are unique rights issues and obstacles in every case.
  • hi hello
    Great Idea here. The only downside I can see is if and when a kickstarter project starts making profits that the backers get none of it. Imo, backers should be able to see a return on their investment based upon the amount that they backed into the project. even if it is 0.001% backend, If a 20k project like Blair Witch or Paranormal actvitiy makes an insane amount of money why would the backers/investors not be able to share in the success? After all, The backers are taking all of the financial risk. I think once details like this gets figured out kickstarter will really take off and be a real win-win for fans and creators alike. Obviously the cast of this VM movie are working for free and/or bare minimum to be able to make the movie. I am happy to see the goal hit so fast and its great to see the creators/cast showing their passion for the project.
    • michael interbartolo
      you aren't buying stock in the movie, you are providing money in exchange for the rewards. you get the movie, posters, script, art, walk on role or whatever else for the level of support. this same type of whining was seen when Double Fine collected $3.3M for the $400K game they wanted to make. you need to recognizer there is a difference between kickstarter backer and movie investor.
    • David Banner
      What you are describing exists, doesn't it? Not a Kickstarter, which is mostly a donation model, but a "market place" where one can invest in movies, with ROI? No? Is this still "under development"? I read about it last year, maybe not on Firstshowing.
  • wow
    Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Amazing. Studios should be worried, basically its content to the masses without the risk (will audiences like it) and without the middle man medlying in your production. I just hope that more folks help out smaller projects too and not just big hits like this which already have a following. Mad I can just see the numbers rising.
  • Jill
    Can we have Firefly back now?
    • Richie G
      Just about to say another serenity movie. Whedon said it'd never happen, but we can dream
      • http://www.facebook.com/chris.groves.507 Chris Groves
        Serenity '10 years later'...it could happen, and it could be great.
  • David Banner
    $20 million Firefly Kickstarter, 12 final episodes, we can do it.
    • David Banner
      "My fourth feeling when I read about [the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign] was a kind of dread. Because I realized the only thing that would be on everybody’s mind right now. I’ve said repeatedly that I would love to make another movie with these guys, and that remains the case. It also remains the case that I’m booked up by Marvel for the next three years, and that I haven’t even been able to get Dr. Horrible 2 off the ground because of that. So I don’t even entertain the notion of entertaining the notion of doing this, and won’t. Couple years from now, when Nathan [Fillion]‘s no longer [on] Castle and I’m no longer the Tom Hagen of the Marvel Universe and making a giant movie, we might look and see where the market is then. But right now, it’s a complete non-Kickstarter for me. — Joss Whedon, to Buzzfeed." /cry
  • Why?
    In a way, Kickstarter is the new Napster, only in this case, the studios aren't going to loose a dime. I see where you're coming from about "Who cares? As long as you get to see your characters again?", but aren't the big studios the one's who shut, mildly popular, tv shows down in the first place? They didn't see the numbers, therefore, their faith in the show died and thus the axe and on to the next. Big studios have no loyalties where money is concerned. So yes, I am concerned that they would reap the benefits from crowd funding. I would use the money from Kickstarter to secure the rights to the project. Don't create this film under the same umbrella, it totally defeats the purpose. Buy back the rights and do it yourself. I think it makes a bigger statement . Don't you think? Good write up by the way! Jeffrey from MITNG.Org
    • Why?
      Another thing I'd like to add is that no way the director would return to this project unless he stood to make money off the back end, evidenced by the WB's decision to keep Rob Thomas in the "circle of life". They needed a name attached to this campaign. Come to think...we could all be being used, we-meaning the fans of this show. I don't like how this washes out. It's a very very dirty business and I agree with Hi Hello. Where is the risk for the WB and do the fans get some of the profits?
      • http://www.lawlessgentile.com/ Ali Miller
        There's no way a creator would return to a project unless they could make money off of it? Eh? I think you're confusing "studio executive" with "auteur." The cast is willing to work for next to nothing just to make the film. Same with Rob T. It's the studio who has been unwilling to move forward because they didn't believe it would turn a profit. Joss Whedon didn't make Dr. Horrible and release it for free on the web in hopes of making a profit. It was a cheap passion project. Writers and directors no doubt have dozens of them that never see the light of day.
  • http://twitter.com/AkiraMoney Akira Money ♕
    'Veronica Mars' always had that huge cult fanbase, so this does not surprise me in the slightest.
  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.groves.507 Chris Groves
    Hellboy 3, Firefly Season 2 or Serenity 2 are what come to mind. ALSO, Mark Ruffalo or SOMEONE should do a kickstarter for a new Hulk film. Marvel seems so damn unsure about another one...but the interest in the character has exploded since The Avengers. Fans would welcome a new, well-done, Ruffalo starring Hulk film with open arms.
    • si1ver
      Hellboy, Firefly, and Serenity could all be made if their creators wanted. Del Toro and Joss have so much going on though and Fillion loves his easy Castle job.
  • http://twitter.com/Anon10302904 Anon
    Three problems with this. 1) I am NOT paying for it twice. I get a download of the movie just after release, so I don't have to go to the theatre or buy it on DVD. Yeah, I'm paying a bit more than I would expect to for a studio-funded project, but I'm doing that because that is the only way this will happen. Veronica Mars doesn't have economies of scale - I know that - so I'm willing to pay extra to fund it. 2) The 'studios are too involved' thing only matters at the moment, because the studios hold the existing content. If directors (Joss Whedon comes to mind) know that they can produce something without the studios, that will change the game for new content. 3) I can't see how this does anything bad for the smaller guys on kickstarter. I never even knew kickstarter existed, and there is no way I'd have signed up to it for some random. But having done it once for someone I know builds trust and has made me learn about the service, so I'm actually much more likely to donate in the future.
  • http://twitter.com/davide_coppola Davide Coppola
    Studios really are behind the curve. This could mean donations, and then free movies, but of course if you're talking about indie films. Of course try pulling together $300 million.. Also what law suits could come for this (for the studios I mean)? Yea, so there are some issues to figure out, but crowd funding seems to have a future.
    • MR X
      What you're suggesting (presale the movie then release it for free) could eventually become the film business model of the future. It ultimately defeats piracy.
      • http://twitter.com/davide_coppola Davide Coppola
        Yea, exactly.
  • John
    So wait a minute, we not only have to pay to see a movie, but now we have to pay to make it too? I think Kickstarter is great for funding projects from independent filmmakers, it's about giving the little guy a chance. And now inevitably big business is going to find a way to exploit the concept to decrease their expense and thus increase their profits. Makes little sense to me why anyone would pay WB to make a movie, they are laughing all the way to the bank. Maybe they'll ask fans to finance their Justice League movie next.
    • Wafffles
      $35: a copy of the movie "a few days after release" so you don't have to pay to see it, plus a T-shirt, plus access to regular making-of updates and the production blog. Not the worst deal in the world if you're a major V-Mars buff. $750: a ticket to the red carpet premier. Pretty awesome if you're a major V-Mars buff. $3000: be a featured extra on the set of the movie. Mind-blowing if you're a major V-Mars buff. $10,000: a speaking part in the movie. Instant cardiac arrest if you're a major V-Mars buff. $1,000,000: sex scene with...no just kidding. Point being, you don't HAVE to invest in this to get the movie: clearly enough people were interested in the special perks to get it funded in a few hours. Dozens of people paid thousands of dollars for background parts, access to the lot, etc; I have a hunch they could have funded it entirely on very wealthy people buying roles in the movie, if they wanted to. They didn't have to, though, because tons of people actually liked the perks provided for the $10-$50 donations. If WB were playing hardball and saying this movie would only get made if people donated $20 each to get this movie made, that'd be something else entirely. If this starts a trend were certain movies are "pre-purchased" for funding or else not made, that could be an issue (though it tends to work pretty well most of the time in the video game industry). That is NOT what happened here though: there's nothing wrong with financing a movie by selling unique gifts and personal involvement to voluntary backers.
  • $126191
    Deadwood movie to wrap things up?
  • Chris
    After all the product placement adverts I sat through during the entirety of Chuck, I feel that at this point, they owe me money.
  • David Banner
    You might want to update this article, maybe even daily first week, as of March 15th, only a few days after it launched; its at $3,273,758. WTF !? :) I see on the Kickstarter page, it's "only" 49,433 backers, 3000 more than yesterday. Bell has 1 million followers on Twitter, I'm thinking 75% of those are from Veronica Mars fans. This Kickstarter could have ended up on $20 million or more, at this rate, for sure, but all the higher tiers are now gone, meaning you "can't give too much" any more, looks like only $200 and below. ($20million = 1 million people giving $20 each, for those who think this is an impossible number. That's like buying the VOD on release). I'm not a fan of Veronica Mars, but this instant success is very surprising, I hope this will inspire more to bring back old shows/franchises or start their own thing.
  • Nick
    I hope the Reno 911! guys start one to shoot more seasons. That show was cancelled way too soon.
  • http://www.jimmylove.com/ Jimmy Love
    2 million is not a lot for a movie budget. But if this works then I want some more Farscape.

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